Winter brings inclement weather and shorter days all across our nation. With the sun setting at 5pm in most cities, who wants to go to the gym after work when it looks and feels like night out? Throw in a rainstorm, snow, or cold winds and the idea of skipping your workout and instead putting on pajamas to catch the latest Netflix show is more tempting than ever.
Keeping up with your exercise routine, however, is especially important during the winter months because those shorter, darker days can bring on the “winter blues” – or “SAD” (Seasonal Affective Disorder) – a type of depression that occurs during the winter from lack of natural light. Working out consistently is one way to help relieve some of the symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. (Note: Exercise is not a substitute for antidepressant medication. Speak with your trusted medical practitioner if you are not feeling okay.)
Here’s Why Exercise is Beneficial
Consistent exercise has many health benefits – both immediate and long term. High-intensity exercise (i.e., running, spinning) releases endorphins – “feel good” chemicals – along with improving sleep for that night. Long term benefits include protecting the body against heart disease and diabetes, and lowering blood pressure. Regular exercise (as little as 30 minutes of jogging three days per week) spurs the release of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factors (BDNF) – often referred to as a “fertilizer” for your brain – because it helps the brain to maintain the life of its brain cells, and grow new ones. In turn, the release of BDNF causes a stimulation of the brain that helps you to feel better. Low levels of BDNF have been associated with depression, anxiety, memory loss and conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
How To Be Motivated to Exercise in Winter
So now that you have a better understanding of “why” you should exercise in the winter, the harder part for many people is “how” to motivate to do it on a cold, dark winter day.
Here are tips on how to stay motivated to exercise during winter months.
Get an Accountability Partner
An accountability partner is someone who can keep you motivated and be your cheerleader along the way. This will help you stay on track. Your accountability partner could be a spouse, a co-worker, a friend, an online group or a wellness coach. You can interact with your partner via a daily check-in text message or phone call. You can also find an app that you can share access with to your accountability partner so they can see how you are doing.
Journal Your Progress
Maybe the accountability partner is not for you. You can still hold yourself accountable – and motivate yourself – by keeping a journal of your workout, time spent on it and – more importantly – write down a few sentences about how you felt immediately after your exercise session. Your journal will serve as a log to reflect on how consistent you’ve been with your workout and when you’re feeling less motivated to get to the gym, you can read some entries about how you felt after a sweaty gym session (hopefully good!) which can trigger your mind into wanting to feel like that again.
Schedule in Exercise
Treat your workout like any other doctor or client appointment. Schedule it in to your calendar and if you have to reschedule, do so immediately. This blocks out time in your day for a workout and helps you be more prepared to go (i.e., pack a gym bag in the morning for a lunch time workout, etc.,)
Change Your Workout Time
If it’s too hard to motivate to get to the gym after work, try exercising on your lunch hour or before work. If you’re new to early morning workouts, there are few things you can do to make it easier to get out of bed. Set your thermostat to go off right before you wake up so you can get out of bed to a warm room and set your exercise clothes right next to your bed so you can put them on immediately. Plan breakfast ahead of time so it’s ready for you when you get home. Try these Pumpkin Spice Overnight Oats or Chia Seed Pudding recipes for a delicious and nutritious grab-n-go breakfast.
If going to the gym when it is cold and dark outside is a struggle for you, consider doing an at-home workout. There are many to choose from that are free or low-cost on YouTube, Amazon Prime, Netflix, Instagram and other social media platforms. Some are as short as five minutes (you could do a short program several times a day) and there are countless types of exercise and exercise levels to choose from. If you feel like you want a gym workout at home, you can pause your gym membership and invest in a piece of equipment like a treadmill or spin bike.
Set Exercise Goals and Rewards
There is no shame in dangling a carrot in front of yourself. Set exercise goals to meet such as how many days per week you are going to exercise or how many steps per day you are going to take. When you hit that goal after two weeks, reward yourself and increase your goal. And after another few weeks of hitting your goal, reward yourself again and increase your goal again. Your rewards don’t have to be extravagant – or they could be! Do what you need to motivate yourself. After the winter months are over, you may even notice that you’ve gotten an even bigger reward – a healthier, happier self.